7 Points: Reggie Wayne has no leverage
Point No. 1: Reggie Wayne's contract holdout is an exercise in futility.
There's no doubt Wayne is one of the game's most talented players at his position, but with two years remaining on his deal, he doesn't have any leverage in a battle for a new contract.
The physical and fluid wide receiver has started all 16 regular-season games for Indianapolis during the past seven of his nine NFL seasons, amassing 676 catches for 9,393 yards and 63 touchdowns while earning four Pro Bowl nods. He has logged 100 or more catches in two of the past three seasons.
But according to an NFL source, Wayne will be banking $5.47 million in salary this year with a total compensation figure — including prorated bonus money previously received — of $8.2 million.
Wayne already is the highest-paid pass-catcher on the team, and his total compensation for this year is in the same ballpark as Carolina's Steve Smith, Atlanta's Roddy White and Houston's Andre Johnson. That's reasonably comparable company.
Though he's lagging behind the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald ($10.4 million), the Lions' Calvin Johnson ($11.1 million), the 49ers' Michael Crabtree ($9.25 million) and the Patriots' Randy Moss ($11.2 million), he's well ahead of other highly respected receivers like the Packers' Greg Jennings ($5.4 million), the Bengals’ Chad Ochocinco ($7.0 million) and the Patriots' Wes Welker ($4.2 million).
Making matters worse, the Colts veteran is dealing with one of the toughest negotiators in the business, Bill Polian, who isn't likely to budge in this situation — even for a player he obviously respects and would like to keep happy. Polian is one of the best in the business at keeping the team in a strong salary cap position, and though there isn't a cap this year, jumping into a huge deal with Wayne could put the club in a tough spot once a labor deal is reached, since it's expected a new cap would be imposed.
Furthermore, the team already has expressed an interest in working out a new contract with quarterback Peyton Manning, so the Colts undoubtedly will want to know the impact of that new deal before they address any rumblings from players who are under contract.
Wayne should follow the recent example of Johnson and show the level of class that has established him as one of the respected leaders of the Colts' offense. In May, Johnson reported for voluntary OTAs after missing the first few days, deciding to be a team-first leader who is worthy of a new contract, rather than potentially being labeled as a self-centered malcontent who had become a distraction.
Point No. 2: Carson Palmer needs to make better decisions or hope that his receivers run better routes.
I still believe the Bengals signal-caller can be a top 10 quarterback again, even though he finished in the middle of the pack last season. But he's going to need help from his wide receivers or be less reliant on his favorite targets.
Last year, 12.2 percent of Palmer's throws were broken up by a defender, the second-worst mark in the NFL behind the Jaguars' David Garrard (12.6 percent). That's a good indicator that either his receivers weren't consistently creating enough space between them and their opponents, or Palmer was trying to force passes to favorite receivers whether they were open or not. More than 70 percent of those failed connections were targeted to three receivers: Nineteen tosses to Chad Ochocinco were successfully defended, plus to 12 thrown to Andre Caldwell and 11 to Laveranues Coles.
Coles is no longer with the team, and the Bengals have added rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham and former Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Bryant. But Palmer said third-year receiver Jerome Simpson also is going to be a significant factor in the team's success this year. Palmer recently stated the former Coastal Carolina player has made more progress during this offseason than in his first two seasons in the league.
"He's consistently made plays every OTA, every practice we've been out there. The sky's the limit for him," Palmer said. "It's kind of like a switch went on. It happens for every player at some point. He's got a lot of things figured out and has a lot of confidence."
Another factor that should help Palmer see more open targets is a new approach to the Bengals’ offensive scheme.
"Our run game, hopefully, will be similar to what it was last year, because it was so effective," Palmer said. "But we're trying a ton of different things and moving guys around in different spots, trying to create mismatches by alignment, and that's something that's new to us and it's something our defense has struggled a little bit trying to cover us."
If the Bengals' coaching staff can create more mismatches and Gresham and Simpson can deliver on their potential, this could be the season in which Palmer regains his status as one of the top quarterbacks.
Point No. 3: Don't buy into all the hype over Chicago wide receiver Devin Aromashodu.
I don't want to sound disrespectful toward the third-year wide receiver because he's a solid, young talent with a lot of potential. But if you believe the chatter among some members of the media and fantasy football writers, Aromashodu is a hot sleeper pick who could be team's most productive wide receiver this year.
I'm not buying it.
A seventh-round pick by the Dolphins in 2006, Aromashodu was released and spent the year on the Colts' practice squad. He finally got some playing time with the Colts in 2007, appearing in six games and making one start, wrapping up the year with seven catches for 96 yards. He then spent the bulk of the 2008 season on the Redskins' practice squad before the Bears added him to their roster near the end of the season. Last year the 6-foot-2, 201-pounder caught 24 passes for 298 yards and four scores for Chicago. And now he's supposedly a hot prospect?
What's driving some of the Aromashodu-mania are the repeated compliments from quarterback Jay Cutler during the offseason, and the fact he was targeted 39 times during the final four weeks of last season and scored four touchdowns in that stretch. But while Aromashodu totaled 150 yards in one of those four games, he averaged just 44 yards in the other three. And his 55.8 percent catch rate and 7.0 percent drop rate was the worst of the four Bears wide receivers who had at least 40 passes thrown to them during the season.
Aromashodu is taking reps as the No. 3 receiver behind Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, and I don't expect him to climb any higher on the depth chart this year unless it's because of injuries. Fifteen-game starter Earl Bennett, who's coming off minor knee surgery, also will have something to say about whether Aromashodu will continue to be the No. 3 receiver once Bennett is back to full speed.
By the end of training camp, Aromashodu will likely be the No. 4 receiver who is inserted periodically into the lineup throughout the season. He'll continue to develop, but he's not going to be the team's hot name at wide receiver in 2010.
Point No. 4: Chris Johnson and Ray Rice are victims of the system.
Johnson and Rice finished last season as not only the league's leading running backs in yards from scrimmage, but also as the only backs to break the 2,000-yard threshold. Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards and tacked on 503 receiving yards for a total of 2,509. Rice rushed for 1,339 yards and added 703 receiving for a total of 2,042.
Johnson has made it clear he wants a new contract from the Titans, and that's understandable when you take a peek at his 2010 compensation numbers. Johnson's base salary is just $550,000, and even when you add his prorated signing bonus money that's allocated to this season, his total compensation is just $1.56 million.
Meanwhile, Rice's total is even less. The Ravens running back will earn a $470,000 salary in addition to a roster bonus of $344,000. And that figure bumps up to only $1.09 million when you add his prorated portion of previously banked bonus money.
Though that might sound like pretty good money to you and me, it's paltry when you compare it with the money paid the other NFL backs who finished behind the duo in total yards from scrimmage last year. The Vikings' Adrian Peterson (third), the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew (fourth), the Rams' Steven Jackson (fifth) and the 49ers' Frank Gore (sixth) have compensation numbers that range from $5.69 million for Peterson to as high as $8 million for Jackson. That group worked hard for its money as well, totaling anywhere from 1,500 to roughly 1,800 yards.
But check out the total compensation for other backs who certainly don't deserve those big bucks based on their 2009 production. The Redskins' Clinton Portis will earn $10.69 million this year — including the prorated portion of previous bonus money — following an injury-shortened season in which he appeared in just eight games and contributed 551 yards from scrimmage. Even if he had stayed healthy and doubled those results, he would have trailed Johnson and Rice by more than 800 yards.
It's also hard to understand how the Saints' Reggie Bush will earn $8 million in salary this year against a total compensation of $11.99 million after he finished 41st among running backs last year with 725 scrimmage yards. Or how about the Chargers' Darren Sproles earning $7.28 million in salary as the team's franchise player after finishing 37th in the NFL among backs with 840 yards? While both of them double as return specialists, that doesn't explain their inflated value. Sproles finished 22nd in punt return average and 18th in kickoff return average last year, while Bush was 27th in punt return average.
Unfortunately for guys like Johnson and Rice, owners often are reticent to voluntarily pay for recent performance while they're still stuck paying outlandish wages for underperforming players at other positions who were short-term stars. And even though there isn't a salary cap right now, one will likely be in place when the league and the NFLPA strike a new deal, so owners still have to be vigilant about their future contract commitments.
Point No. 5: O.J. Atogwe's record as a playmaker far outweighs the risk of his recent surgery.
The Rams didn't want to upgrade the veteran safety's tender offer to $6.976 million, so they recently opted to let him hit the open market as a restricted free agent. And though no one has signed him to a huge deal yet, the team that steps up to the plate is going to get one of the game's best playmakers.
Reports indicate the Rams, Lions and Redskins are the front-runners, but I wouldn't totally rule out the Dolphins or Cowboys despite reports that indicate they're satisfied with their starters.
Atogwe is in a tough spot. He has waited for his chance to be richly rewarded for his performance, hard work and great attitude while playing for a slumping franchise. Unfortunately, his chance to sign that big contact is occurring more than a month following the draft, plus he's coming off shoulder surgery and is rumored to have a sports hernia. He can put the injury concerns to rest by successfully passing a team physical, but the timing of his availability is really working against him.
Over the past four seasons, Atogwe has missed just four starts and is among the league's best safeties in a number of categories. He has made 305 tackles (11th) and 19 interceptions (tied for second), forced 14 fumbles (first) and recovered eight, and has defensed 32 passes (11th).
If Atogwe star wants to play out this situation to his best advantage, he and his agent should find a comfortable, but not alarming, figure that would allow him to land with a team that has a legitimate shot at being a playoff contender. By surrounding himself with more talent than he had around him in St. Louis, Atogwe could lift his performance to an even higher level over the next couple of years. And that would pay off even more when he's ready to negotiate his next contract that would carry him to the end of his career.
Point No. 6: Marshawn Lynch and Dwan Edwards sent bad messages out of Buffalo.
Lynch sent a message this past week by showing up for a couple of days during OTAs, but opting to work out only in the weight room while his teammates went through the paces of learning a new playbook on the practice field. Maybe the running back thought showing up for some limited work was better than not showing up at all. Or maybe he just wanted his absence from the field to be more evident.
Whatever his rationale might have been, not working out with teammates in a year when you have a new coaching staff and a new playbook sends a bad message. Because Lynch is likely the odd man out on a depth chart that now includes rookie C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, his behavior simply cements his status as the third running back heading into training camp — if the Bills opt to keep him that long.
Meanwhile, Edwards' bad message wasn't the least bit malicious. It was simply a blunder that, surprisingly, was reported through the team's official website. With the Bills switching to a 3-4 defense that will include more blitz packages, the defensive tackle was asked this week what he thought of the new approach under defensive coordinator George Edwards.
"You’ve got to like an aggressive coordinator that’s not going to have you on your heels and is going to have you in attack mode," Edwards said .
So far, so good. But then he tacked on this quirky little analogy.
"You want to be the guy with the gun, not the guy running from the guy with the gun."
At a time when the NFL is so conscious about its image and the message it sends to youth, introducing gun imagery isn't very smart.
I'm not big on political correctness, and I usually applaud a player who speaks his mind honestly about his upcoming opponent or how he feels on a hot topic because, as a sportswriter, I get weary of vanilla, canned responses. But when it comes to a comment that kids could badly misconstrue as an endorsement of packing a gun so you don't have to be afraid of anyone, that has little to do with political correctness. It's a matter of overlooking the example you set for kids who look up to you as an NFL player.
I'm not saying Edwards is a bad person or should face disciplinary action. But I hope he'll realize the comparison was a bad one — and one he shouldn't repeat the next time he's asked about the team's more aggressive style of play.
Point No. 7: Rookie Nate Allen is going to earn a starter's role in the Eagles' defense.
When the Eagles chose the former South Florida safety early in the second round of this year's draft instead of USC's Taylor Mays, some groaning was heard out of Philadelphia. And now that penciled-in starter Marlin Jackson has ruptured his Achilles' tendon, it's likely Allen will have the opportunity to show those naysayers he is the right man for the job.
There will be an open competition for the free safety position between Allen and third-year veteran Quintin Demps, who wasn't able to hold onto the job when he was given a shot last year. Macho Harris could enter the picture as well, but he was recently moved to the cornerback depth chart.
"I'm trying to rebound off a down year I had last year," a contrite-sounding Demps told the media earlier this week. "That's my main focus, to stay healthy and come out here and play football."
Meanwhile, Allen sounded like a man who has been preparing to play a prominent role in the team's success.
"It's a tough situation, but I know I just have to get into the playbook now and just keep preparing like I have been," he said.
The 6-foot, 207-pound rookie has the intelligence and maturity to handle the responsibility of being a starter. And fortunately for the Eagles, he also has the speed and toughness to back it up. I like his chances to emerge from training camp as the starter and to post a solid rookie campaign.
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